We have a case of dueling studies in Madison (WI), where a second study indicates that a renovation of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as opposed to a replacement, would be the best use of county funds in determining the future of the 1967 arena and Alliant Energy Center.
Dane County has been pitched by Wisconsin-based Hammes Co. on a $500-million overhaul of Alliant Energy Center, which would include a new publicly financed arena combined with private investment in hotels, meeting facilities and more. The arena currently serves many masters: besides hosting touring shows, it’s also a centerpiece for World Dairy Expo and Midwest Horse Show activities. Those two shows are by far the biggest events held annually at Alliant Energy Center; the World Dairy Expo draws over 70,000 attendees and over 2,000 cattle for the yearly celebration of all things dairy, and the arena is crammed with exhibitors in the concourse and cattle judging in the arena bowl. The arena is also home to the Madison Capitols (USHL).
In response to the Hammes Co. proposal, the Dane County Board commissioned a study from Chicago-based Hunden Strategic Partners that follows much of what Hammes recommended — new hotel, exhibition and commercial space — but overhauling the Coliseum instead of tearing it down. From Madison.com:
In addition to the development and expo center expansion, Hunden is recommending spending about $87 million to renovate and expand the Coliseum. The Hammes plan included $180 million to tear down and replace the aging arena.
“There is opportunity for many events with an improved facility,” the study says. “The Coliseum can be renovated/expanded and regain market prominence. A new facility (is) not needed” and “very expensive.”
That the 1967 arena needs an overhaul or replacement can’t be argued. But, like everything in Madison, the debate will surely be drawn out for months and years: a final report isn’t expected until March and a committee charged with the Alliant Energy Center won’t make any decisions until the summer at the earliest. This is a complicated issue: There are already plenty of venues in Madison (Kohl Center, Overture Hall, Breese Stevens Field) capable of hosting events in the 7,000-12,000 attendance range, and part of what Dane County officials need to decide is exactly what they want out of a facility. That may be more of a challenge than anyone anticipates.